The hip/adductor/abductor machine. You know the one, loved by gym bunnies and leery gym bro’s the world over. Yes. That one. That machine you have been led to believe will ‘tone’ up your inner thighs or tighten your glutes or give you that J-Lo bubble butt if you do the variation where you half sit in a rise position. Here’s the truth, there is no way to sugar coat it. That machine is a piece of junk that is doing NOTHING for you. I’ll go as far as to say I hate that machine and so should you.
A century ago gymnasiums where a very different place. Rather than rows and rows of machines these temples of health would have been filled with medicine balls, Olympic Rings, parallel bars, kettlebells, barbells and other paraphernalia. The first machines where invented in the early 1800’s and where intended to be used as medical devices for the “prevention of illness and injury”. Modern resistance machines came about as a result of the surge in popularity of exercise amongst the general population in the 1950’s as “a means to safeguard members of the public from injury” It was Arthur Jones in the 1960’s that really cemented the idea of isolation machine based training in people’s minds with his invention the Nautilus machines. Originally this type of training was aimed at bodybuilders, the idea being to isolate individual muscles and work them to complete fatigue in order to induce hypertrophy (muscle growth). But this mentality stuck and weight machines became the accepted norm.
The problem with isolating muscles to train them is that the body doesn’t actually work this way. When you ‘do a movement’ 5 different muscle actions happen; 1 the prime mover that does the moving, 2 the antagonist that works the opposite way to the prime mover, 3 synergists that assist the prime mover, 4 stabilisers that keep everything in the right place and neutralisers that keep any excess movement in check. When you work a muscle in isolation you mess with this wonderful symphony of movement which can have unintended consequences. Remember also that this type of training was originally intended for bodybuilders, most people exercising in gyms today are doing so in the pursuit of health and fitness or to loose weight and ‘tone up’ rather than grow big muscles.
In order to understand why I hate this machine so much we need to delve into female anatomy a bit deeper. In order to make babies nature gave women a pelvis that is wider and more shallow than the male version. The female pelvis is great for baby making but less good structurally as a shallow pelvis is less stable. The extra width creates something called Q angle which refers to the angle of the thigh bone, females have a greater Q angle (think knocked knees). This puts greater stress on the joints of the lower limb. It’s important to be aware that females have a much higher rate than males of non contact ACL injuries.
When you increase tone in a muscle what you are doing is turning up the tension, a toned muscle is a muscle in a state of partial contraction. The adductors is the name given to the muscles of the inner thigh. The job of the adductors as their name implies is to adduct (bring together) the thighs. By shortening the adductors muscles what happens is that Q angle is increased putting even more stress on the hip knee and ankle joints leading to joint degeneration and injuries. By turning up the tone of the adductor muscles and increasing adduction and internal rotation the ability of the gluteal muscles to contract is reduced so you end up with a wobbly backside.
The good news is that there are many alternatives that actually work better. In fact most functional movements such as squats, lunges, gait, step ups, will not only work your inner thigh muscles but will also work the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calf muscles and the muscles of the core in a way that burns many more calories and strengthen the body making it more resilient to injury as well as looking good.